Lynda Hal­li­nan:

Lynda Hal­li­nan builds a bug ho­tel to of­fer bed and break­fast ac­com­mo­da­tion for creepy crawlies.


cre­ates a bug man­sion

If you reckon gar­den­ing is a gen­tle, earth-moth­erly sort of af­fair, you’d be wrong. “Let no one think that real gar­den­ing is a bu­colic and med­i­ta­tive oc­cu­pa­tion,” wrote the early 20th­cen­tury science fic­tion au­thor Karel Capek. Capek, whose main claim to fame was in­vent­ing the word ro­bot, de­scribed gar­den­ing as “an in­sa­tiable pas­sion, like ev­ery­thing else to which a man gives his heart”.

In­sa­tiable pas­sion, or in­cur­able mad­ness? It does seem to drive some of us a bit doolally. How else can you ex­plain all those ec­cen­tric Vic­to­ri­ans shov­el­ling steam­ing mounds of fresh horse ma­nure into sunken con­ser­va­to­ries in a bid to grow pineap­ples, or the 40 years that the French painter Jac­ques

Ma­jorelle spent creat­ing his Mar­rakesh gar­den – now owned by fash­ion de­signer Yves St Lau­rent – where he painted every brick and tile in his sig­na­ture shade of cobalt blue?

If we’re hon­est, gar­den­ing is ac­tu­ally a com­pet­i­tive sport, ap­peal­ing as much to van­ity and our sense of one-up­man­ship as it does to our de­sire to feel at one with na­ture.

When Lancelot “Ca­pa­bil­ity” Brown was Bri­tain’s go-to guy for land­scape de­sign in the 18th cen­tury, his trick was to cre­ate gar­den-less gardens: nat­u­ral­is­tic look­ing land­scapes of rolling hills, wood­lands, rivers and lakes where pre­vi­ously there were none.

Over in France in the 17th cen­tury, King Louis XIV pulled out all the stops to cre­ate the most ex­pen­sive gar­den in the world. It’s es­ti­mated that, were it to be built today, the gar­den at Ver­sailles would cost well over $1 bil­lion. To cre­ate it, all of the Sun King’s horses and all of his men were put to work re­claim­ing swampy marshes, chip­ping away at mar­ble foun­tains, up­root­ing 200,000 ma­ture trees from the sur­round­ing coun­try­side and dig­ging out a 1.5km-long grand canal com­plete with 620 wa­ter jets and a fleet of Vene­tian gon­do­las.

But like so many back­yard makeovers, folly trumped func­tion at Ver­sailles. The water­works were so ex­trav­a­gant the pumps kept go­ing ka­put; when the King set off for a stroll, a team of min­ions had to run ahead turn­ing the noz­zles on and off in or­der to main­tain enough wa­ter pres­sure for the jets that were within his line of sight.

I can sym­pa­thise, for many of my own gar­den­ing projects have also come unstuck af­ter the ex­e­cu­tion phase.

When I got mar­ried six years ago, my hus­band and I ex­changed vows on our lawn at home, stand­ing in front of a rather un­usual al­tar: an an­tique Ro­ma­nian dove­cote. It was a thing of beauty, with hand-cut cedar roof­ing tiles, fancy fas­cia boards and 21 hidey-holes for coo­ing birds.

No dove has ever stepped foot in it, although a cou­ple of mag­pies tried to nest in it last sum­mer and a con­tor­tion­ist pos­sum once overnighted there. Also, it wasn’t par­tic­u­larly weath­er­proof, es­pe­cially af­ter slaters ate its rot­ten roof off, and it ended up as a bit of an eye­sore.

My hus­band wanted it gone. “Burn it,” he said. But I had a

The bug ho­tel's “rooms” are fur­nished with nat­u­ral ma­te­ri­als col­lected from the gar­den, such as logs, bark, bam­boo canes and pine cones.

bet­ter idea. I de­cided to up­cy­cle it, giv­ing it a new life and pur­pose as the pent­house suite of a bug ho­tel of Trump Tower pro­por­tions.

Bug ho­tels aim to pro­vide homely habi­tats for bio­di­verse com­mu­ni­ties of ben­e­fi­cial in­sects, such as bee­tles, but­ter­flies and bum­ble-bees, giv­ing them a safe win­ter refuge. They also look funky in sus­tain­able land­scapes and, hav­ing made their de­but at the Hamp­ton Court Palace Flower Show in London in 2009, these fashionable fol­lies are get­ting pro­gres­sively posher.

Tiny homes are all the rage, but when I set out to build my bug ho­tel, I had grand plans for a pala­tial sky­scraper – not some bud­get back­packer hos­tel – set in gra­cious grounds (a bed of beau­ti­ful cas­cad­ing blush-pink “Water­fall” be­go­nias).

Sadly, un­like Louis XIV, I didn’t have 36,000 men to do all the grunt work but I did have four keen Ger­man vol­un­teers – Deb­ora, Andi, Anna and San­dra – who were here on hol­i­day at the time. To­gether we for­aged around my gar­den for dried flax stalks, seed heads, pine cones, twigs, rocks, bricks and other bits and bobs.

It took a full day to con­struct the tow­ers, Jenga-style, and the or­deal was not with­out its ca­su­al­ties: we burnt out my Dad’s 50-year-old elec­tric drill bor­ing holes into the ends of storm-felled branches and logs

(the holes look cute but also act as ma­ter­nity wards for in­sect lar­vae to hatch out in).

What sort of ten­ants am I hop­ing to at­tract? All go­ing to plan, I’ll end up as a slum land­lord for hi­ber­nat­ing ladybirds, slaters, ear­wigs, wee­vils, leaf min­ers, borer bee­tles, cen­tipedes and na­tive soli­tary bees, so named be­cause they pre­fer their own com­pany to the con­vivi­al­ity of life in a hive.

My only hope is that they don’t trash the place in a hurry. When pop­star Justin Bieber and his en­tourage were on tour in Syd­ney this year, they left his $20 mil­lion rented man­sion in such a state the own­ers had to call in a team of fu­mi­ga­tors, but that would rather de­feat the pur­pose of my fan­ci­ful new folly.

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